This almost makes me wish I lived in Minnesota

…just so I could vote for Al Franken.  The following two videos are tremendous.  Few members of our elected officials actually give a shit about the average person, and he’s one of them.  Bernie Sanders is another.  The first of these is Franken taking apart a bigoted defender of DOMA, and the second is Franken making a pointed argument against the violation of privacy that transpires when certain location-based apps share their information too much. 

Oh, and in case you didn’t notice, Franken is a progressive.

Wiping the floor with a “witness” in favor of DOMA:

Discussing the iPhone:

Good summary of top-predator ecology and some thoughts on its implications

Although I live in the business world now, my education was in biology – and I find the concepts of ecology and genetics surprisingly applicable to the world of business.  Both on the broad perspective of companies as consumers and producers competing for space in an environment, as well as the genes that make a company good moving about (in the form of practices learned, ideas and people who transfer from one company to another).  That said, I found a good short summary article today I’d like to share.

It might seem simplistic, to say that the absence of a top predator has far-reaching consequences on the entire ecosystem in which it lives, but for wildlife management, it is a previously-unrecognized issue.

For instance, the re-introduction of wolves into Yosemite, where elk comprise their primary food source, has resulted in the resurgence of the aspen tree there – since fewer elk (or possibly more cautious ones) don’t go wandering around aimlessly eating all the young trees.  The presence of more trees leads to more nesting ground for birds, more living space for insects, more things that eat the insects, and so on and on.  Ergo, the wolf has a long “arm” within its environment.

Same goes for the sea otter (in that article linked above).  In fact, it would seem, same goes for any form of predator in the ecosystem.

I’d go so far as to say most, if not all, organisms in general have a long reach within their environs like this.  For instance, pull mosquitoes out of the Siberian tundra, and you’ll have enormous boosts in the caribou population, which means vegetation gets decimated, which means erosion of soil and loss of habitat, etc. etc.  We’re already seeing effects of this with the change in climate – because of warmer summers coming earlier, some flowers are blooming earlier.  But the pollinators (bees, other insects, birds, etc.) might not be prepped for them that soon – and so what happens is that the flowers come and go, but they don’t get pollinated.  And they don’t make seeds.  So we potentially lose the plant, and whatever else depended on it.

This is serious business, life is.  It’s also a mess – everything touches everything else, and a stone dropped in the pool at one end has extremely unpredictable ripples that might just drain the whole thing.  Which is why scientists are really, really worried about climate change.  In the United States, the vast majority of our food supply relies on something like a total of 15 different organisms.  15.  Those fifteen species (such as wheat, corn, cows, chickens, etc.) feed 300+ million people.  The common honeybee – which is experiencing a population crash due to mite and viral infection (which are easily spread among hives when they are placed close to one another, as they are when transported around the country in trucks and stacked next to each other in orchards or fields), combined with weakened defenses courtesy of pesticides – is responsible for up to 25% of our agricultural productivity.  Seafood – much of which is headed for a mass-extinction event – feeds a great many more of us.

So what happens when the arctic ice cap goes away?  All the life in the polar region gets disrupted, just as if you cut down the entire Brazilian rain forest.  All the potential discoveries in that biosphere (such as new medicines, food supplies, ‘how things work’ and their resulting implications for our own bodies, etc.) go away.  Much of the food stocks that we could have used go away.  Worse still, things we don’t want might/will show up – pestilent forms of life, a large dark spot on the top of the world that absorbs heat and energy rather than reflecting it back into space, methane clathrate eruptions, etc.  Your “Ice Road Truckers” show comes to an abrupt end.

This is why you get scientists telling you about this stuff decades in advance.  Because they know, you drop this stone here, and where the ripples rock the boat in unexpected ways – it’s anyone’s guess.

And in a world that has evolved us to exist in a pretty narrow set of environmental confines, rocking the boat isn’t such a hot idea.  Because if it turns over, we all pay.  Especially our kids.

Speaking of which, having watched Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” series recently, I find it sad that here we are, thirty years after scientists sounded enough warning alarms over climate change to have it spread widely enough that it was a common issue then, that we still have a battery of – pardon my rough language – fucking morons who still think there’s some debate going on about it.  Idiots who think politics is some kind of Bears/Packers rivalry and that it ends with the SuperBowl of the presidential election.  Fuckwits who think that their team is the only legitimate answer, even when it is demonstrably fraudulent and criminal.  Which is the primary reason why I think at this stage deniers of climate change should be politically sterilized – disenfranchised.  Anyone who can look at the evidence around them and still cling to their “my team says it doesn’t exist, so it’s not real, it’s all a political hoax” deserves at best to lose their right to vote.  At worst, they just deserve to be shot.

Because in the end, it’s their vapid and rabid team-spirit that has killed us all.

 

 

 

Farewell, Shuttle

Despite being an enormously over-expensive project, the Space Shuttle was a marvel of engineering, and a pioneering effort in exploration.

The final flight of the fleet took place these last couple days – and it deserves a big salute.  Despite the accidents, the budget overruns, and the noise around it, it was a beautiful machine.

What is even more sad is that we don’t have a project in place to replace it, to put humans back in space.

Once more unto the breach!

After a hiatus of ten years or so, tomorrow I’m going to go play paintball – I used to be very good, and enjoyed a good rep as an airsmith and a player, but I suspect I’m a bit rusty.  I went to the paintball store yesterday, and discovered that the face of the game has changed a bit.

I was really sad to see that Worr Game Products has been knocked completely out of the industry – they were the manufacturers of the Autococker, which was a great gun.  I had an original Sniper from way the hell back (even had a lefty model made for me back in ’89), and when I updated in the late ’90s I got myself one of the early Autocockers.  Still have it back in my storage space in the states.

So I went to the store yesterday to pick up some kneepads to save my legs from getting crunched tomorrow, and saw all the fun toys…and couldn’t resist.  I picked up one of the new guns (a nice mid-range model with an electronic trigger), and I’m psyched to see a few of my original mods still going.  Ages ago (’88 or ’89, can’t really remember), I ported a barrel for my Sniper and discovered it worked great – I’d figured it would work similarly to the porting I saw on real firearms used in racing competitions.  I started doing those mods for friends and other folks who were shipping their guns to us back in Virginia, and within a few years, manufacturers were putting them on every gun.  They’re still there.  I’m pretty psyched about that.

So I picked up a new gun, tank, mask, etc. – I’ll probably write up a review of the gun after this weekend (if I’m not confined to a wheelchair afterwards).  Fantastic looking machine, and I love that it’s a good quality set of electronics.  We’ll see…I always had my doubts about putting a circuit board in a machine that would regularly get splattered with water-soluble paint or be used in the rain.

Looking forward to some shooting!

Update:  Okay, I survived…and had a great time.  Top-notch field, lots of fun all around.  Got shot up a lot!  And…also managed to destroy my big toes in the process.  My boots were less than forgiving, and I’m likely to lose the nail on the left big toe…right one might go too, but doesn’t look nearly as bad.  In spite of my hobbling around like an invalid (okay, technically I am one), I’m definitely going back.  

Update:  It’s February, I have new boots, new toenails, and an itch to go shooting again…

 

Robert Reich hits it.

The contained talk (which is about an hour long – and worth every minute) details a very pressing issue about what is and is not real in America. Namely, the American Dream – and how it is going away. The definition of poverty and income inequality are major factors in the overall well-being of a society, and Reich makes a very good presentation regarding both here.

In particular, I found interesting his point about the “snap” point – either the snap back, or the break. Because income inequality doesn’t just keep going. Eventually, something snaps it back in shape.

Just ask Marie Antoinette.

If it wasn’t decided in your mind already, it should be now.

That is, that it is time the Republican party to go extinct.

And kudos to at least a few of the milquetoast Dems for finally calling a spade a spade and taking the fight to them.  Anthony Weiner – prior to demonstrating his sexual frustration in view of the public – was chasing down Clarence Thomas’ corruption.  Now, Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is finally pointing out the emperor’s nakedness on air.  I’ll get into that in a moment.

The GOP is responsible for:

  • Ballooning the debt of our country to astronomical levels – courtesy of two wars fought off the books of the annual budget, $700 BILLION in tax cuts for the rich, and a drug program that steals money from our tax dollars to line the pockets of Big Pharma.
  • Did I mention wars?  Wars that have cost us thousands of lives of our troops – and tens of thousands of cripplings, maimings, and other exceedingly expensive medical cases into the future.  I won’t even get into the hundreds of thousands (arguably millions)of innocent civilians who have been killed in these conflicts for the crime of merely living there.  Allow me to refresh your fucking memory:

    NY Times: Samar Hassan, 5, moments after her parents were gunned down while taking her brother to the hospital.
  • Countless instances of corruption and vice crimes.  My mention of Anthony Weiner up there?  Think he was correctly pressured to resign?  Then how about the moral shithole (good thing he’s into wearing diapers) that is David Vitter, who still occupies a seat (and not one in the men’s room)?  How about John Ensign and his cronies who tried to cover his affairs up (i.e., Senator Coburn)?  After all, Weiner’s Weiner never broke any law, despite being morally on the wrong side of the tracks.  Vitter and Ensign broke the law, not just once, but numerous times.
  • Racism beyond compare, starting in 2006 when they decided (foolishly) to try to make illegal immigrants a major talking point in order to energize their base.  In spite of costing themselves the Latino vote for probably the rest of eternity (definitely a case of short-term myopia), they continue to double-down on their insane xenophobia.
  • Domestic terrorism.  Lots of it.  Since 2008, right-wing rhetoric has served to stir up their lunatic fringe and has resulted in at least 24 various terrorist attacks and bombing attempts.
  • Attempts across the country to deny our citizens the right to assemble and have their voices heard as a group, when they want to speak out on their own working conditions.  Most notably, in Wisconsin.

And now, they are threatening planning to destroy the US economy, in order to further their own personal agendas.  In their maniacal pursuit of the defeat of President Obama in 2012, they have adopted a scorched-earth policy that threatens the foundations of the United States itself.  I’m referring, in this case, to the idiotic theater surrounding the raising of the debt ceiling.

Just in case you didn’t know, the ceiling was raised on several occasions between 2001-2008, to the sound of crickets chirping in the background.  And the occasional chuckle from Cheney, who, if you’ll recall, specifically stated “Reagan proved deficits don’t matter,” and “This is our due.”

Where this party might once have actually stood for something correct – I for one consider myself one to look before I leap, which is what I would consider a sane conservative attitude – the GOP now is an empty shell of its former self.  In fact, the best word I can think of to describe it is treasonous.  To actively seek harm to the United States in order to further one’s own goals is treason.  The GOP does this routinely and structurally – and now they threaten everyone.

Because the consequences of default are severe.

This is what the GOP is threatening us with.  In case you didn’t realize it before, they are the “Fifth Column,” working their hardest to bring down this country.

Here’s Schumer’s comments at a speech to the EPI last week.

It’s time to take the fight back to them.  The GOP – and “Movement Conservatism” in general -needs to be extinguished.

 

I take this as very good news

Based on a totally unscientific person-on-the-street set of brief interviews, a Catholic reporter found a great majority of the Irish aren’t really all that into being Catholic. I particularly love where the guy tries to make the claim that not going to Mass intentionally is a “Mortal Sin.”

Yeah, because those priests need their attendance figures up, gotta protect that revenue stream.  And Jesus would be very very angry if you weren’t there, you know.

Oh yeah, and there are gays there!  Oh for shame!  Which, of course, the announcer tries to pawn off as an activist group who “believe in the right to sodomy.”  That kind of dishonest crap coming from an organization that routinely rapes children and tries to fawn it off as “no big deal” just demands its own extermination.

Put an end to the Church, people.  It’s the Mafia in robes.  There’s nothing left there that deserves the support of good, moral people of any stripe.

If anything could make me give up my steaks…

it’d be ass cancer.

Nobel laureate Harald zur Hausen suspects that there may be a virus we haven’t discovered yet that causes cancer, in beef.

Dr. zur Hausen, in case you hadn’t known previously, is the fellow who won his Nobel for the discovery that HPV causes cervical cancer in women.  This discovery has the potential to save almost a million lives every year, once HPV is brought under control.

This story is particularly interesting to me – in the same way that watching Stanley Prusiner’s early announcement of prions as the cause of mad-cow disease and CJ syndrome was fascinating.  You’re seeing the very start of a potential scientific discovery in process.  Zur Hausen is floating an idea that’s playing around in his head – in this case, one very closely related to a discovery already made (by himself), so it isn’t quite such a long trajectory as, say, the discovery of quantum mechanics or relativity.  But right now this idea is in its nascent stages.

Over time, there will be 5-10 years of study of cows and beef products, and very likely a huge attempt to shut down his research by the beef industry, either by de-funding him through political channels or by funding a massive PR campaign to discredit him and his research.  If Zur Hausen is correct, and he locates a virus responsible in cow meat, it spells a major problem for our meat industry.  At the very least it’ll start with new cooking regulations from the FDA, and rare steaks in restaurants may become a thing of the past.

Which, while regrettable, does have a certain level of benefit to the environment behind it.

The next step, in this case, would be a major effort to establish a vaccine and get people immunized against such a bug.  That’d enable people to go back to eating beef without worry aside from coronary issues for having too much fatty food.

But the interesting part of this story will be the science.  Right now, it’s only an idea – it’s going to turn into extensive research, dogged pursuit of his idea.  He might be right, he might be wrong.  But he’s staking a sizeable chunk of his reputation on the chase, as well as significant investment in its pursuit.  And he’s not doing it to win a nobel, he’s doing it because he thinks he’s right and if he is, he stands to help a LOT of people.  Who knows how this will turn out?  He’s human, after all – perhaps he’ll grow so attached to the idea that even after conclusive proof is given against his theory, he’ll persist in his belief that it’s right.  That’s happened in the past – Lysenko and his idea of inherited traits, climate and evolution denial, people cling to their beliefs through a lot of conclusive proof to the contrary.  On the other hand, he may very well bow his head, shrug his shoulders, and say “I was wrong.”

THAT is science, folks.  There’s drama there, and it is the kind of long-term, generation-spanning epic story of discovery that has made human history so interesting.  I, for one, am looking forward to seeing how this turns out.

Even if only to be able to look at my grill and the lovely steaks it cooks for me as a source of comfort.